Endorsing gender discrimination

Posted: Jul 22, 2003 12:00 AM

What is it about angry feminists that so scares the Bush administration? That makes it adopt a position of supine surrender, pleading, "Please, please, don't hurt us"?

These questions suggest themselves to anyone following the administration's handling of the controversy about Title IX, the anti-discrimination law that has been twisted into a sports quota that frankly discriminates against collegiate male athletes. The Bush administration has now given its seal of approval to this Maoist intrusion into college sports, for one reason -- it's too frightened to do otherwise.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits sex discrimination in any education program receiving federal funds. Fair enough. But a 1979 regulatory interpretation of the law said colleges should provide male and female sports opportunities in exact proportion to the male and female composition of the student body, i.e., if the student body is 60-40 female-male, the athletic slots have to be 60-40 as well. In 1996, the Clinton administration told schools that meeting this so-called "proportionality test" is the only way to avoid getting sued for sex discrimination.

Since women aren't naturally as interested in sports as men, the only way to achieve the mandated match with the student body is by eliminating men's sports programs and calling it "gender equity."

According to a 2001 General Accounting Office report, since the 1970s, more than 170 men's wrestling programs, 80 men's tennis teams, 70 men's gymnastics teams and 45 men's track teams have been axed. Schools have been known to measure the floor space of women's and men's offices in athletics departments to make sure they are equal. Government investigators have even inquired why men's basketballs are bigger than women's.

This is the proportionality test at work. The Bush administration was considering fixing it by regulation a year or so ago. Then it got a whiff of the feminist outrage around Title IX.

Any proposed reform is portrayed as certain to send women back to the 18th century and into hoop skirts and corsets, even though the quota does nothing to increase opportunities for women, but merely punishes male athletes for the sin of being part of the patriarchy.

So, the administration took the cowardly way out -- forming a commission to study the issue. There was a consensus on the commission that Title IX was broken. It didn't go nearly far enough, but it at least recommended a few sensible reforms.

One reform would have stopped counting "nontraditional" students toward the Title IX quota. These nontraditional students tend to be women returning to school after raising a family and have no interest in playing sports, so mandating more women's sports slots on the basis of their numbers makes no sense.

The other would have stopped counting "walk-on" athletes against the number of men's slots. Walk-ons cost very little money since they don't have scholarships and sometimes just practice with the team. Thanks to the Title IX quota, they are often turned away from team rosters because allowing them on would mean "too many" men's slots.

The Bush administration rejected even these minimal fixes, ensuring the continuation of the absurd Title IX regime. There is already gender equity in NCAA sports, and then some. There are 600 more NCAA women's programs than men's. But Title IX will continue to wantonly slash away at men's programs.

The quota is particularly tough on historically black colleges, where the percentage of the student body that is female is steadily increasing. Wrestling programs have been almost entirely eliminated at these schools. Washington, D.C.'s famous Howard University last summer cut its men's wrestling and baseball programs, and added a women's bowling program.

"We think it was a complete cave-in to gender-quota advocates," says Eric Pearson, chairman of the anti-quota College Sports Council, of the administration's decision. "They didn't even follow one recommendation of their own commission." The Bush administration might be offended at such criticism, if it weren't so occupied with quivering in fear.